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Cafe is holiday gift in Prospect

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PROSPECT — The Prospect Cafe and Trophy Room’s new owner, Rose Hall, admits it wasn’t exactly “love at first sight” when she stepped into the more than 70-year-old digs.

The dark, old wood structure that is filled with stuffed wildcats and trophy heads suited the tiny historic logging town — founded when a sawmill began operating there in 1870 — but it clearly needed more than just elbow grease after being shuttered for more than a year.

Hall and her partner, Dave Aikens, who own the property along Mill Creek Drive, figured it was a staple for the town and would be a fun venture. The only sit-down eatery in the tiny town had closed more than a year ago, but the bar and tavern portion hasn’t been operational for closer to five years.

It is still a work in progress, but the cafe reopened Oct. 8.

Aikens, who is an Eastern Oregon native with myriad of real estate ventures, said his memories of the cafe go back to when he was a teenager.

His said he remembers grabbing dinner after high school basketball games and using the giant woodstove set up in one corner to “thaw out” after a long, cold day of work in the logging industry.

“I went to Paisley, but all the kids from all the little country schools knew all the other schools,” he said. “We would come over here to get our butts whooped in basketball, and they’d give us all $2 for dinner, so we’d walk over here to eat.”

Even Aikens, who said the old place mirrors his memories, admits it was a tall order to reopen for business. While the cafe has been back in business for two months, not all of the repairs and cleanup are complete.

“I was ... a little overwhelmed,” Aikens said. “My only experience in the restaurant business was pulling ‘KP’ (kitchen duty) in the Army over 40 years ago.”

A slew of owners have controlled the establishment over the past few decades, but Aikens said he felt the importance of keeping the cafe connected to the locals.

Hall, who formerly operated the Homestead Cafe in Paisley, came to the Rogue Valley with Aikens to visit his former high school rival, Mike Mauer, who actually broached the idea of buying the cafe to the couple. Maurer is the brother of the late Andy Maurer, who played in the 1975 and ’78 NFL Super Bowls and coached at Cascade Christian High.

“We came to visit Mike, and it all started as a joke,” Hall said. “He told us, ‘You ought to move out there and reopen the Prospect Cafe. We need a restaurant.’ I said, ‘Yeah, whatever!’”

A month later, Aikens surprised Hall by purchasing the property. Within a month, he had moved from Shady Cove and she left Paisley to join him in the tiny town.

She was admittedly surprised at the rooms full of trophy heads and stuffed game, but all the historic memorabilia charmed her into loving the space. The cleanliness factor, she jokes, was something else entirely.

“When I first saw it, I thought, ‘Oh, my god. This will never make it to be opened as a place to sit down and eat,’” she said. “It was so torn down. It was so dirty. Once we started to get it cleaned up, we figured let’s open it up and see what happens.”

So far, Hall said, the residents of Prospect have been excited to have their cafe back.

“It’s the only joint in town where you can sit down and eat,” she said. “I guess we’ll just keep on seeing what happens.”

Doreen Orner, who owns the nearby Prospect Store with her husband, Tom, said the cafe’s reopening was a burst of good news for the town.

“When we first moved here, it was a favorite spot,” she said. “I guess it’s gone through quite a few hands since it closed. People came right back when they opened it again, so she hasn’t had to really do a lot of advertising. It’s open, so they’re all coming back in.”

Long term, Aikens hopes to be a destination or even a popular stop-off for travelers.

“It would be perfect for someone to go for a ride in the country, maybe pack a bedroll and ... head off for the day,” he said. “They could camp out, enjoy live music, and we’ll wake them all up for breakfast. I’d like to see it become a destination or even just a waypoint. We’re excited to just see what happens.”

The cafe’s winter hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., with plans for different operating hours this summer.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneInside the Prospect Café.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneRose Hall is the new owner of the Prospect Café and Trophy Room lounge.